City of Joel
Kiryas Joel is one of the fastest growing, most insular and orthodox Jewish communities in the world. This film follows a year in the village’s life and explores how it is the realization of founder (and namesake) Joel Teitelbaum. In the face of American materialism, he envisioned a shtetl in the suburbs where the Satmar sect could shun popular culture and follow religious traditions as they were practiced hundreds of years ago. The over-riding goals of the community are to be fruitful, multiply, follow the 613 mitzvot (commandments) from the Torah and wait for the Messiah to arrive. But they have proven themselves almost too successful. The village has some of the highest marriage and birth rates in the country, and unlike reform or secular Jews, assimilation and lack of observance are rare. The village is expanding so rapidly that they are running out of space for new families. Developers and leaders have come up with an annexation proposal to double the size of the village, but their non-Hassidic neighbors are opposed to the plan because they believe it will harm the environment and tilt the balance of political power in the local government. There are also dissidents within Kiryas Joel who oppose the consolidated power of the village leadership. And the Satmar’s belief that there should not be a Zionist state until the Messiah returns has put them in conflict with supporters of Israel. Our film goes inside the community and explores how this ultra-orthodox faith has become both a source of strength and tensions in Kiryas Joel. In the tradition of rigorous of observational documentaries, this film will present their lives in the full complexity without taking sides.